To Fight Global Warming We Must Tax All Recreational Exercise

A recent Lancet article argued that obesity is contributing to global warming because the obese consume more calories.

Since making food releases carbon, that means an obese person, on average, is worse for global warming than a skinny person. (Not to mention the extra methane the obese might release, but that is my father’s area of expertise, not my own.)

Just to put these arguments into perspective, I made some simple calculations for the United States.

Let’s say that food production is responsible for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — although I suspect that is too high. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 were the equivalent of roughly 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. If food production accounts for 20 percent, then food production resulted in the emission of 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

According to Wikipedia, the social cost of a ton of carbon dioxide is $12. So the greenhouse gases released to make the food Americans ate in 2006 had a social cost of $16.8 billion.

There are about 300 million Americans who consume about 1,500 calories per day. If my calculations are correct, then the appropriate global warming tax would be about $1 for every ten thousand calories consumed.

According to the Lancet article, the obese consume about 400 extra calories per day. So the appropriate tax on the obese to account for their extra global warming impact would be a little over $1 per month.

In other words, the effect is too small to even be talking about.

But as long as we are having the conversation, if we want to blame the obese for global warming, those who engage in recreational exercise like jogging or biking for pleasure should surely be discouraged from doing so because of global warming.

Someone who jogs an hour per day burns an extra 1,000 calories daily … far more than an obese person. Such wasteful burning of calories must be discouraged if we are to save the planet.

I hereby call for the next president of the United States to pass legislation imposing a carbon tax of 10 cents per hour on all recreational burning of calories. To save the planet, we must encourage people to sit at home and burn as few calories as possible.

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  1. Nathan says:

    I like it … but am curious where you get the idea that most Americans stick to 1,500 calories a day. As a net calorie intake, that’s not really even healthy for a 20-something male (a demographic with which I’m particularly familiar).

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  2. Charles D says:

    I know this is a bit of a joke, but I think there is something in the type of calories consumed by obese people and those that exercise. All calories aren’t created equal. If an obese person consumes tons of fast food and has a meat heavy diet their calories cost the enviroment much more than someone who isn’t meat heavy.

    The type of plant also has a lot to do with the enviromental effect and whether it helps build top soil or dries out the soil.

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  3. M@ says:

    First and foremost, the vast majority of studies concerned with obesity and calorie consumption have shown that the obese do not consume more calories than the lean (see Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories).
    Secondly, if you live in a country with government subsidized health care, preventive medicine is in your best interest. So don’t discourage or tax people for exercising. The amount of calories consumed are not as important as the type of calories consumed.
    Lastly, it seems like the problem is with our current agricultural methods. What if we replaced fertilizer with compost that comes from discarded food? What if we encouraged organic farming (not the energy intensive type)? What if we invested in research toward resistant crops That need less water and are less likely to fall prey to pests?
    You can increase the health of the soil and the population if you make the right choices. Blaming the obese for global warming is absurd. We are all in this together.

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  4. Chesapean says:

    I love it!

    But why penalize just the public? Surely every wasteful government program expends calories that contribute dangerously to global warming.

    We should eliminate government waste to save the planet!

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  5. Lynn says:

    Your argument is based only on calorie intake; you should also take into account the activities both types participate in. Thin/athletic folks are more likely to be exercising outdoors during the early morning or evening. If the obese are spending their time indoors playing videogames or watching TV, they are consuming more energy. The weight of the extremely obese must also have some effect on the efficiency of their car (maybe enough to increase fuel usage?)

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  6. Dan M says:

    While I recognise that your article is a joke, carbon pricing or cap-and-trade systems are clearly useful solutions to solving one of the world’s biggest problems.

    An effective cap-and-trade system or tax is most likely to work at the level that minimises administrative costs and is easily calculated. Targetting those directly or closely responsible for emissions, such as power generators, petrol retailers and farmers should minimise the costs and the need to make these guesses over the emissions associated with diets and exercise.

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  7. Jeremy says:

    Why hasn’t anyone thought of the children? How many calories has the President’s Physical Fitness Test made people consume? Surely, the government is at fault for greenhouse emissions too!

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  8. jack sparrow says:

    lol, i just hope that such a tax doesn’t actually take place. though i feel it wouldn’t be unfair if corporate america gets taxed a little bit more than the rest of the planet.

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